The proportion of Swiss who describe themselves as religious has decreased considerably over the past decade. However, more people than ever are curious about relatively new sects such as Scientology.
According to a survey of 1,000 Swiss residents conducted by WIN/Gallup International and published in Swiss daily “20 Minuten” on Friday, only 38% of Swiss residents call themselves religious. Almost half (46%) of those surveyed describe themselves as not religious and 12% say they are atheists.
Three years ago, the number of Swiss believers was 50% and was as high as 71% a decade ago. Young people in the 18-24 group were the least religious (26%) while those in the over-65 age group were the most (55%).
The poll was part of global survey of almost 64,000 people, with western Europe emerging as one of the least religious regions with only 51% of people on average acknowledging religious belief.
On the other hand, the proportion of Swiss enquiring about new sects such as Scientology in 2014 increased by 21% compared to the year before, according to Infosekta, a Zurich-based consumer group that provides information about sects. This is the third consecutive year that the group has received an increasing number of requests for information about sects. Children and young adults make up a quarter of all callers.
According to Infosekta, the reason for the rising interest in sects is due to greater awareness among the population about their existence and activities, which in turn raises curiosity or concern.
Regina Spiess, a counsellor with Infosekta, says that awareness has come in particular from increased attention from both traditional and social media networks.
“The media have recently been reporting critically about guru phenomena in so-called esoteric groups, which hadn’t been the case before,” Spiess told swissinfo.ch.
Activity on social networks had also led to more activity and inquiries surrounding sects, she said.
“For example, if a person quits the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the religious community is no longer allowed to communicate with them. There are a lot of people affected by that and it creates very strong pressure groups on social media.”
New Scientology centre
The scheduled opening of a new Scientology centre called “Ideal Org” in Basel on April 25 has also led to increased inquiries. Infosekta has received a lot of calls since the opening was announced in June 2014, but Spiess doesn’t think the project holds much potential.
“I think they will have a really hard time finding enough workers for the centre,” she said. “We know that from talking to Scientologists who say that even though they’re under a lot of pressure to do it, they don’t want to work at the centre because the job barely pays anything.”
In 2014, Jehovah’s Witnesses attracted the largest number of questions at Infosekta, followed by Scientology and the International Christian Fellowship.